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Guardian ad Litem program getting more calls for volunteers after toddler's death

Posted at 5:50 PM, Sep 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-19 06:10:22-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Kat Lewis and Jennifer Malone are friends, both even started the process of becoming Guardian ad Litems, or volunteers for children in foster care. 

'For me, I don't think there is a better time than now to really get out there and really get going on this program," said Lewis.

While Lewis is feeling more motivated than ever after the death of Jordan Belliveau.

"It helps you become a great advocate for them," said Lewis.

Malone wonders if it's pointless. In Jordan's case, his guardian recommended against reuniting the 2-year-old with his mother Charisse Stinson and the boy's father. But the judge granted custody to his parents. 

"I am questioning being a Guardian ad Litem. Putting yourself in that situation when you have the best interest of the child and then not having your experience and expertise taken seriously or into consideration," said Malone.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman has volunteered as a guardian for more than a decade.

She said the legal process can be frustrating.

"The judge generally does look at the magistrate or the DCF attorney on what you would like to do," said Murman, who is also the chairperson of the commission.

It's why for years, Murman has advocated for Attorney ad Litem. A push to pay more lawyers to represent kids. Right now, lawyers are paid in custody cases. 

"That has to be funded by the state legislature," said Murman.

She plans on renewing the effort after Jordan's death, but hopes in the meantime, people like Malone, will put frustrations aside, and volunteer. 

Right now, 30% of kids don't have a guardian. 

"By having that set of eyes on a family on that foster child it does lessen the risk," said Murman.

If you are interested in volunteering or learning more, click here.